Recently, I sold my stand mixer. I had bought it hoping to make cooking and baking more convenient, and ended up hardly using it. But I worried that my bread-baking days might be at an end if I got rid of it, or at least extremely limited. So many bread recipes call for kneading with a stand mixer that I wondered if it was even realistic to try and make bread without it.
So can you make bread without a stand mixer? You can make many different varieties of bread without a stand mixer. A stand mixer will speed up the kneading time by several minutes, but nearly every common variety of bread can be made by hand with a relatively short hand-kneading time (about 10-12 minutes or less). Some loaves of bread are made with no kneading at all.
Even though you can make bread by hand, many, and I mean MANY, recipes do call for a stand mixer. But, with simple alterations and method changes those loaves are possible by hand. If your perspective is similar to mine, you might even say making bread is easier by hand, not just possible. If you’re a purest, maybe you’d even say it’s better by hand.
The Reason for a Stand Mixer
So why do so many recipes call for a mixer if it can be done by hand? For one thing, it’s easier. The machine does most of the work for you. This allows for you to make larger amounts of dough at one time, as well as freedom to multi-task. It’s also faster. Some bread recipes require upwards of 20 – 25 minutes of hand-kneading. That job could be done in about 10 minutes by a stand mixer. Also, some varieties of dough are quite sticky, which makes them really difficult and messy to work by hand.
It might also be helpful to think about what the stand mixer is actually doing to the dough. Basically, when we make bread with a stand mixer, the mixer is doing the job of kneading the dough. The main purpose of kneading bread dough is to stretch, straighten, and organize the gluten proteins. This makes bread chewy, and also helps to give it its structure. It also incorporates air into the dough so that the finished loaf is light and fluffy. Is this process unique to stand mixers? Not at all! In fact the “hook” attachment for stand mixers simply mimics the type of work hand-kneading does.
Hand Kneading Options
With that in mind, it’s definitely possible to develop those gluten proteins by hand kneading. After all, bread predates stand mixers by just a few thousand years. When approaching bread-making without a stand mixer, there are two routes you can take; muscle or method.
First, there is the muscle route. Most breads can be made by hand. It just might take you a little longer to knead the dough than can be done with a machine. For some of us (ahem), this could be a bit of a work-out. However, if you’ve got your heart set on a particular recipe that takes a longer knead, don’t skip it simply because it calls for a mixer. Account for a longer kneading time, roll up your sleeves, and go for it! You’ll end up with an amazing loaf of bread and some added muscle for those summer tank-tops.
Another option is the method route, which is my preferred route. There are many bread doughs that don’t need a long and vigorous knead, or in some cases any knead at all. In fact, hand kneading might just be the better method for several types of bread. If you don’t have your heart set on a specific long knead bread and you’re not looking for a workout, opt for a bread with a little or no kneading method. The end result will be just as delicious!
But What About Sticky Dough?
OK, I’ll admit – sticky dough clinging to hands and counter is definitely the most frustrating thing about making dough without a mixer. So what can you do to manage sticky dough?
- Give it a rest. After mixing your ingredients, allow the dough to rest for 20 – 30 minutes before even starting to knead. This gives the flour time to absorb all the water it can, which can decrease the stickiness of the dough.
- Add flour. Too much extra flour can throw of the proportions of the recipe, and result in a tough loaf of bread. But flouring the counter and your hands a bit as needed can make sticky dough more manageable.
- Oil your workstation. Lightly oiling the surface of your counter, and even your hands, can also prevent sticking.
- Wet your hands. Another option with either flouring or oiling your work space is to wet your hands. This can also do the job of keeping dough from sticking to your hands.
- Invest in a couple of simple tools. A plastic dough scraper and/or metal bench scraper can make a huge difference when trying to coax tacky dough out of a bowl or off of a counter.
- Knead like a pro. There are several techniques, such the slap-and-fold, or the fold, that professional bakers use specifically for working with high-hydration (i.e. wet) dough. If you’re interested in learning about these, Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish and Dough by Richard Bertinet contain not only recipes, but instructions for kneading and working with these types of wet, sticky doughs by hand. There’s even a clip on YouTube of Richard Bertinet demonstrating his method for working with sticky dough.
Best Breads to Make by Hand
- Artisan – Think crusty round loaf with a fluffy interior.
This type of bread is perfect for serving alongside a rustic dinner, or to give as a gift. There are several varieties and methods, and many call for either gentle folding (instead of vigorous kneading), or for not kneading the dough at all.
- Ciabatta – This broad, flat, Italian-style white bread is great for sandwiches. The process of making it is similar to the artisan bread, but you’ll have an even wetter, stickier dough.
- Focaccia – Focaccia is usually baked in a sheet pan, and is often flavored with garlic and herbs. It’s great as a snack, a side to a meal, or as a sandwich bread. Although some recipes call for a mixer, it’s not always necessary. In fact, almost any artisan dough can be made into focaccia. Allow it to over-proof, pour onto a sheet pan, use oiled fingertips to nudge it into the rectangular, dimpled focaccia shape, spread the oil and optional flavorings on top, and bake for 10 – 15 minutes in your oven’s hottest setting.
- Sandwich bread: For sandwiches, French Toast, or picky toddlers, nothing beats classic loaves of white or wheat. Many recipes can either be easily adapted to hand-kneading, or already include instructions for it.
Bread You Can’t Make by Hand?
OK, so are there types of bread that you absolutely cannot make without a stand mixer? From the research I’ve done, I think the answer is, no! Although there are many recipes that specify they must be made with a mixer, almost any kind of bread can be made by hand. It just might take a little bit of digging to find the recipe that’s right for you.
- America’s Test Kitchen has great step-by-step instructions for kneading bread both in a stand mixer and by hand.
- The Kitchn has a huge collection of tutorials on shaping and making bread, many involving no-knead bread recipes.
- Flourish, the blog produced by King Arthur Flour, has a great article on handling wet dough.